Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

This text gives to us the results of a specific divine arrangement. Joshua and the army of Israel were sent out to the battle-field to fight with Amalek. Moses was required to take the Rod of God in his hand, and go with Aaron and Hur to the top of a neighboring hill. Every man in the army knew that he was fighting under the eye of Moses, and still further

* The following Article will be recognized as the discourse delivered by Rev. L. P. HICKOK, D. D., Vice-President of Union College, on resigning the chair as Moderator of the General Assembly. It is thought best, on account of the peculiarity of the occasion, to preserve the form of the Sermon. The text was, Ex. xvii. 11, 12, 13 : “And it came to pass that when Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed ; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy: and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon: and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side : and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.” EDITORS.

VOL. VI.-12

to encourage and excite, every man could see the symbol of God's power and protection lifted up towards heaven.

In this arrangement there was a combination of both the natural and the supernatural. The army was a physical force with carnal weapons, led on by the military skill of a human Captain ; and yet God also was there, and had his own great purposes to secure under his own appointment and direction. That mystic rod, pointing steadily towards heaven, was wholly of God's ordinance, and concerning its propriety or efficiency, human wisdom had nothing to say or to do.

When all was thus carefully arranged and faithfully executed, success was certain. Every part in its place, and all at their work; Israel constantly triumphed. But a derangement in one part, put the whole cause in jeopardy. Moses' weary arm occasioned a lowering of the sacred rod, and the disastrous effects were immediately felt all over the distant battle-field. Amalek gets courage, and gains ground. Aaron and Hur then seated Moses on a stone, and stood one on each side and held his hands with the rod steadily towards heaven till the going down of the sun, and the victory was complete; “ Amalek was discomfited with the edge of the sword.”

From this particular example so specifically narrated, I feel warranted in deducing a general principle; and here affirm, that God's arrangements, faithfully executed, will always be successful. This will be found eminently true, in reference to God's institution of the Christian Church. I give, therefore, to the proposition a definite application, and say: THE CHURCH OF GOD THOROUGHLY ORGANIZED, AND FAITHFULLY AT WORK, SHALL BE PERPETUALLY TRIUMPHANT.

The complete development of this truth may be best secured by a particular investigation of the three following divisions : I. The Christian Church is God's institution. II. All parts of this divine organization must work together ac

cording to the grand design. III. Such harmonious co-operation will secure constant suc

cess. I. The Christian Church is God's Institution. God has made some things to be essential in the organization of the Christian Church, without which there can be no church, but a merely human association. There must be credible evidence of piety; some visible form of public recognition, and mutual bond of covenant relationship; and an assent to a scriptural creed. Provision must also be made for Gospel officers, ordinances, and discipline. The whole must rest on the foundation of Jesus Christ, and his sovereign authority must be recognized in the prayers and praises and personal consecration of all the members. There may be good men where there is no such organization ; yea, there must be good men, in order to such an institution; but those good men can constitute no gospel church in the absence of these requisitions. The forms in which these elements shall be combined, have less consequence; suffice it here to say, the substance must be present.

With these essentials of church organization, many other things may be left to personal preferences and a wise Christian expediency. Very many and very wide differences of form, and even differences in doctrines, which are not foundation principles, should not be allowed to sunder the communion and fellowship of Christian brethren. Many deficiencies and errors may still be consistent with the full acknowledgment of a true church standing. Where the foundation principles are right, Christian charity should be widely tolerant.

All church authority is originally in and from the Lord Jesus Christ; but under commission from him, the source of ecclesiastical power is in the body of the church, and their covenant bonds constitute them an associated and united brotherhood, competent to institute and execute all regulations necessary for church order and discipline. The officer is not the primal source and substantial ground from which the church originates and on which it rests; but the church itself is the permanent and substantial, while the officer exists for her sake, and is her minister and executive functionary. The primitive apostolic office and distinctive work had no succession, and while the Gospel bishop is Christ's commissioned embassador, yet is he distinctly appropriated, ordained and accredited by the Church; and when any exigency demands, he may be directly and independently originated by the church members. While we may then admit as true churches of Christ, such as account themselves to be only the creatures of the functionary, notwithstanding the error is very dangerous, yet may we not give “place by subjection, no not for an hour,” to any assumption of exclusive validity in the breath or the blessing of merely the church officer, to ratify the church covenant, or to confirm the church member, or to ordain the church minister. The church has power to make, or to depose any of her officers.

Both the principle and the practice of specific delegation of church authority are clearly expressed in the New Testament. That church which commits her discipline to a lay-eldership, is under the primitive gospel sanction, and that church which chooses to act in full congregation, or only partially delegates to a standing committee, is equally, and no more than equally, on the same divine platform of Christian liberty and independence. Ephraim and Judah may foolishly and wickedly vex each other in turn upon these matters of scripture license and comparative indifference, but they both deserve rebuke for it. And when particular Churches, with delegated powers of discipline, choose to go further, and combine in presbyterial organization, and make and adopt in common their own standards of faith and order; and when these Presbyteries have also their appellate Synods, and a General Assembly, and thereby many churches become by their own act one more general Church, yet has there been no surrendry of their Christian freedom. Rather, in their freedom, have they determined so to do, that they may serve God and their generation better, and walk with each other, and before the world more orderly.

And here, in this general organization, while some things are to be done as Church authority determines that they must be, other things are to be done as circumstances permit that they may be. God designs that both his ministers and Church members should use their private judgment, and cultivate habits of personal decision and responsibility, and often act individually and socially in their voluntary capacity. Ecclesiastical rule can not and should not cover the whole ground of Christian effort, and control every Christian movement. Moses must stand on the hill and keep the rod stretched upwards towards heaven; here is express rule, and divine authority. But Aaron and Hur are to judge from the circumstances what the duty is when the weary arm hangs down. They associate in a voluntary service, and put a stone under Moses, and take their places on each side and hold up his hands till sun-down, abundantly convinced that they are doing the Lord's work and securing the Lord's blessing.

No Church can be after God's pattern that does not leave a pretty broad margin, outside of ecclesiastical regulation, for free enterprises and voluntary associations. The constant interposition of authority always becomes odious, and church members any more than state citizens will not tolerate perpetual dictation. Provisions for religious intelligence, periodical Christian literature, and the more direct religious training in Bible-classes and Sabbath schools, must almost wholly and necessarily be left to individual or associated action. In many forms of Christian charity, and moral reformation, and missionary action, the stream of benevolence will flow on the more full and pure and peaceful when left to "wind its way at its own sweet will.” The man, or the association, that judges on grounds of distinct and separate responsibility, where God would have the work done, or the alms given, has not thereby either invaded, violated, or nullified any ecclesiastical authority.

But no voluntary effort co-operative in common interests, can be a substitute for that direct service which the particular organization demands. Every Presbyterian church, while freely and liberally contributing to the general cause of Christ through other channels of voluntary effort, is bound to give heed to every call which comes legitimately from its own organization. That there should be such a general organization is folly and absurdity, if its own proper claims are not to be first met, and its own wants the earliest watched and the soonest supplied. If God cannot be best served and religion promoted by the existence of the Constitutional Presbyterian Church, then let Presbyterianism die and her name be blotted out; but the Church that judges otherwise, and chooses to belong to the Presbyterian body, is then bound, for the kingdom of God's sake, to see that Presbyterian wants are presbyterially supplied “in advance of all others.” The Presbyterian Church will throw the most help into the common stock of

« PreviousContinue »